How do you build a game that ignores the most basic rules of geometry? Over the past 5 years William Chyr has worked tirelessly to find out. Manifold Garden is the Chicago-based developer’s upcoming game that blends exploration and MC Escher. While that description might be a bit reductive, the game itself wears this influence on its sleeve. William and I caught up last week to talk about Manifold Garden and where he wants the games industry to go.
Can you give us a 30 second introduction to what Manifold Garden is?
Manifold Garden is a first-person exploration game. It is a metaphor for the history of physics. You start off by learning how gravity works, then by the end, you are thinking about the shape of space itself.
The game also explores impossible world geometry, such as having the world wrap around in every direction. In a world like this, traveling in any one direction will bring you back to where you started. You can actually “travel down” to “go up”. The game destroys preconceived notions of up and down, and builds up new ones.
How did you develop the game’s unique art style?
The game's art style was inspired by old architecture drawings. It took a lot of iteration over the years to arrive at the current stage. I made a timelapse of the game's visuals here.
How has the game changed over its development?
The game has been in development for almost five years at that this point, so its current stage is very different from what I had in mind when I first started. Originally, it was meant to be a small 3-months project for me to become familiar with Unity. I recently started a weekly stream called "Unfolding The Garden" where I play through early builds of the game and talk about how it evolved over time. The archived episodes can be found here. I've also been keeping a devlog of the game since November 2013. It's a rather long read now, but contains a lot of interesting details throughout development.
What have you learned from looking back on your 5 years of time working in the garden? How has your design sense changed?
The biggest thing is just how complex, rich, and difficult the medium of game design is. What's really exciting about game design for me is that it ties together so many disciplines: architecture, art, cinema, interactive design. I've learned not to underestimate where you can go with a game. In terms of how my design sense has changed, I've become less beholden to rules and definitions. When I first started out, I thought a game had to meet certain requirements. You had to have X, Y, and Z in order to be a puzzle game or an adventure game. I no longer think like that. I'm much more interested in design that explores the grey areas and break the rules.
What was your experience like using itch.io Refinery?
I did a few rounds of testing last year with about 200 people. It was really easy to use and I got a lot of great feedback on the game. The best part about working with itch.io is how much the creators listen to developers and how quickly they are to implement requested features.
Where do you want to see games as a medium go in the coming years?
I'm looking forward to seeing more games as the artistic expression of individuals. This has already been going on, but I think the advances with technology and distribution will allow for more artists currently working in other disciplines to transition into games.
What element of Manifold Garden are you most proud of?
It's hard to pick just one... There's a mechanic in the game which allows you to shrink down into smaller universes. I haven't seen that done in other games before, so I'm pretty happy with that.
If players walk away from Manifold Garden having learned one thing, what do you hope that thing is?
A sense of curiosity for exploring the world around us, and perhaps awe that we even exist at all.
When can we look forward to getting our hands on Manifold Garden?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity